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"Maybe the best animated film of 2014."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "There have generally been one or two movies like "Song of the Sea" among the nominees every year since the Oscars started giving out an award for best animated feature, and they're the best argument for the award's existence. No, this smaller film from Ireland that relatively few voters had seen had little chance to win, but being nominated makes it easier for it to get noticed later. That's when people notice it and realize that it's terrific." (more)
"Should have stayed off the map."
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Hollywood stories can be self-indulgent or snide, depending on what sort of axes the people making them have to grind, rarely managing to hit the sweet spot in the middle. What they seldom are, though, is extraneous, but that's what happens with "Maps to the Stars" - there's one track that's a nifty little story with some potential. Whenever it gets into stuff that's specifically about the movie business, on the other hand, one can't help but be reminded that David Cronenberg used to make things far more original than this." (more)
"I'm not sure what's going on here, but it looks great."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Maybe the best way to describe "Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal" (to give it the full name that appears on-screen) is to imagine if Ray Harryhausen had been born in China, making the sort of weird fantasies that were popular in Hong Kong in the 1970s, only he had access to twenty-first century CGI and performance capture. It's rough and all over the place, but also a fair amount of fun." (more)
"Cute, not cruel."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "There are a lot of romantic comedies that start from from premises as ludicrous as that of "A la Mala", but few of them do as well in selling that starting point. It's a goofy little thing, but it's got a cute couple at the center and makes enough nimble steps along the way to be a great deal of fun." (more)
"It's the Viewer Who Gets Nuked"
2 stars
Jack Sommersby says... "Grossing a paltry $210,904 in the U.S., this is not one of those little-seen movies ripe for rediscovery, believe me." (more)
FOCUS (2015)
"No "Maudlin's Eleven""
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... ""Focus" is a film in which Will Smith plays an ultra-slick con man who embarks on an elaborate scheme to relieve someone with more money than common sense of millions of dollars utilizing charm, bluster and a story that even the most gullible of individuals might find themselves questioning at times if it was put forth to them. (No, there is no truth to the rumor that it was originally intended to be titled "The Making of After Earth.") In theory, this sounds like it might have the makings for a reasonably diverting night at the movies but somewhere along the lines between conception and execution, something clearly went horribly wrong because the end result is a smug, soulless and deeply annoying contraption that spends too much time trying to throw its increasingly implausible narrative curveballs at the audience and not nearly enough time giving them a story or characters that they can invest enough interest in so that they can at least be somewhat surprised by the relentless rug-pulling on display." (more)
"Lads At First Bite"
5 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Even though I had been hearing nothing but good things about it for a while, I still found myself filled with trepidation as I sat down to watch "What We Do in the Shadows." For one thing, it is a vampire comedy, a concept that pretty much hit its high-water mark a half-century ago with Roman Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and which, with one or two exceptions (such as the hallucinatory Nicolas Cage vehicle "Vampire's Kiss"), has been on the downslide ever since thanks to the increasingly tired likes of "Love at First Bite," "Dracula--Dead and Loving It" and the indescribably awful "Vampires Suck," a movie so bad that the title is the funniest thing about it. For another, it is a mockumentary, another sub-genre that has also grown somewhat tiresome thanks to its overuse by people who don't understand how to make it work both comedically and cinematically. Finally, it is the product of co-writers/directors/stars Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, a duo who previous collaborations include "Eagle vs. Shark" and the TV series "Flight of the Concords," projects that are venerated by some people that I know but which have thus failed to inspire anything remotely resembling a laugh. The only thing that kept me from abandoning it altogether was the knowledge that no matter how bad it might be, it could hardly be worse than "Mortdecai," "Fifty Shades of Grey" or any of the other bits of nonsense I have endured in the last few weeks." (more)
"A Waste of Wings Hauser"
2 stars
Jack Sommersby says... "If you've seen the original, then you've pretty much seen the sequel, though not a great deal of people have seen either one." (more)
"Empty suits."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Comic book writer Mark Millar has come up with a good racket in recent years; he may be far from the best storyteller in the medium, but he's unmatched in pitching ideas (usually "familiar concept with a twist that makes it more violent") and self-promoting in a way that gets both readers and Hollywood to buy in early, especially since he's had enough prior success to attract talented collaborators. What comes out the other side is generally good-looking but cynical junk, and "Kingsman" - talented director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of "The Secret Service", a comic Millar did with talented artist Dave Gibbons - doesn't buck the trend by much." (more)
"Noteworthy for more than just being a first."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It's a bit odd that the first film from Mauritania to be nominated for an Academy Award is about Mali, but this isn't the sort of movie that a country generally makes about itself until much later in its history. We're lucky that "Timbuktu" is getting that extra little bit of attention and wider theatrical release that comes with being an Oscar nominee, at least, as it's a terrific little movie. The combination of earnest tragedy and achingly painful absurdity can be hard to stomach, but it's harder still to look away." (more)

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